Pakistani nation needs answers to move on

Shireen M Mazari

This 14th August comes at a defining moment for Pakistan’s future political direction and at the centre is the figure of an increasingly beleaguered President Musharraf. Why is it that rulers of developing states never understand the costs of looking to Washington for their political power and survival – despite the glaring examples of the Shah of Iran and Marcos? In the process the whole nation suffers the repercussions far beyond the leaders’ period in power. Had President Musharraf listened to the voice of the nation, the judicial crisis may have been turned around, if not averted, and democracy would have had a less wrenching restart. Perhaps even more critical, the hatred and polarisation that has undermined the nation may well have been avoided and, certainly, the heavy price for going the US way on its misguided war on terror could have been averted.

But such are the yearned for “could-have-beens”, as we confront the harsh realities of what has actually come to pass today. The president faces impeachment and there is a vengeful cry for blood – such is the hatred and polarisation prevalent within the nation today. Will Musharraf face up to the charges and respond, or will he be persuaded to resign and take the so-called “honourable” way out? The latter in fact would be an admission of guilt in the present circumstances and it would also deprive the nation of ever learning the truth of all the deals brokered with the US and other external and internal stake holders. Perhaps, equally critical, there would be no guarantee that such a route would ensure that there would be no prosecution in the future – the Pinochet case being a crucial example. Worse still, it will allow the present and future political rulers to continue to use the Musharraf regime as the source of all national ills.

On the other hand, if President Musharraf chooses to take on the impeachment charges and respond, perhaps the nation would finally know what were the quid pro quos in terms of US-Pakistan cooperation in the US-led war on terror; what compelled the NRO and what exactly it comprised; what led to the Saudi intervention in the political roadmap that begun unfurling after the NRO; and, whether the US was instrumental in bolstering Musharraf’s rigid and untenable stance on the judicial crisis? Perhaps the nation will also know what happened to all the “disappeared” people and why so many Pakistanis were condemned without any evidence, let alone a trial, to torture first at the hands of their own agencies and then at the hands of the Americans. Many returnees of Guantanamo continue to be hounded in Pakistan and are compelled to remain silent rather than reveal the sufferings at the hands of their tormentors. Is it any wonder that Dr Afia is not prepared to say anything to even our diplomats? It is these issues that need to be revealed to the people of Pakistan at a time when the present major coalition partner also has deep US links.

It is not without design that the Ron Suskind revelations have come about at this time, given the close link between Suskind and the CIA. Nor is it simply a coincidence that the CIA-US diatribes against the ISI have come now – probably as a result of the latter now finding it difficult to continue supporting some of the highly questionable US policy goals in this region – including the deliberate destabilisation of the settled areas of Pukhtunkhwa. If we can learn the deals the US made with the Musharraf regime, we may be able to recognise the hidden agenda the US has with the new set up, given the intensive links between the US and the Haqqani-Malik-Durrani trio. Even on the Dr Afia issue, where all political parties stood together in the National Assembly, the PPP stood alone in evading the real issue while Mrs Haqqani chose to show that as long as our diplomats, under Haqqani’s able guidance of course, provided Dr Afia with a Holy Quran and halal food, there should be no cause for concern!

Incidentally, if one thought the energy issue was relevant only to Iraq in terms of the US invasion, one should remember that there are major uranium deposits in the Afghan mountains as well as in Helmund province. Perhaps Pakistanis also need to know that there are suspected uranium deposits in Swat and Balochistan and undoubtedly US advanced satellite imagery would have given them that information. Perhaps that is why so many US commentators think and write, quite erroneously, that Pakistan’s major nuclear installations are in Pukhtunkhwa province! In any event, we should be aware of the reasons why the US wishes to see certain regions of Pakistan destabilised – but the question is why are our leaders taking the bait? If the US was serious about stopping the flow of militants from Pakistan into Afghanistan across the international border, then why was it so opposed to the fencing of that border – something the Pakistani state was keen on undertaking and a strategy the US itself has used to prevent infiltration of illegal migrants from Mexico along the US-Mexico border?

Unfortunately, the reality for Pakistan is that, at the end of the day, it is confronting a two-headed terrorism monster: the US and the Al Qaeda-extremist militancy. Only if we create space between ourselves and the US (since we cannot fight the super power directly) will our multi-pronged policy be successfully operationalised, and have national credibility, against the Al Qaeda-extremist militancy.

It is in the backdrop of the dangerous US-India agenda for the region – with Karzai simply a convenient mouthpiece – that we have to cope with the domestic political crisis and the impeachment issue. There are those who feel impeachment would leave a deep wound on the nation so the president should adopt a “dignified” retreat. However, the time for a dignified retreat was over a long time ago and the nation has a right to know whether the charges are valid or not, just as it is time to reveal the wheeling and dealing behind the NRO and with the US.

Equally, given the grave nature of allegations regarding the US Coalition Support Fund being levelled by Zardari – with little hard evidence but a lot of histrionics so far – President Musharraf must respond in a clear and unequivocal fashion. Earlier such allegations were being made against the institution of the army, with a clearly male fide intent, until it was clarified that the money went to the treasury not to the army directly!

For the first time the opportunity has been presented for the nation to be informed directly about how our rulers make decisions and deals. Especially knowing more about the notorious NRO would help us understand why certain institutions are being weakened today in Pakistan and why our relations with our steadfast ally China are being undermined. That is why a rational impeachment process will perhaps achieve a democratic culture for the nation that is truly accountable and responsive. To leave it halfway would mean allowing mud raking and blame games to continue on and on. This is what will be debilitating for the nation in the long run – especially since it will allow an increasingly enemy-like US to find enough space in our political contours to impose its agenda of eventual restructuring and denuclearisation of Pakistan. Let there be no mistake on that count at least.

Finally, let our new leaders not play into our external detractors’ hands unwittingly through internal preoccupations or ignorance – our foreign minister really needs to know that the Berlin Wall was an artificial construct put up by a post-war occupier of a defeated Germany which had already been split by the victors of World War II, and this has no relevancy for relations between the two sovereign states of Pakistan and India, both created in 1947. So far that is what is happening as witnessed by the increased violence by Indian forces in Occupied Kashmir, or calls by Karzai and NATO for more direct US/NATO military intervention into Pakistan. Or is there a design in this neglect?

The writer is a defence analyst. Email:

Source: The News, 13/8/2008

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